I was all excited to share my Super Easy Family Dinner Party Plan with you a few weeks ago after serving three of the most delicious pizzas for my college friend, Samidh, his wife, Nithya, and their two kids. I was envisioning calling it “Family Dinner Party in Three Easy Steps” because, really, it felt so effortless, the kind of meal where the reward is completely out of proportion to the work involved in making it happen. I believe the business people of the world call this a healthy R.O.I.
The morning after, I started typing up the instructions. Step one, step two, step three. Hmmmm. Step four, step five.…what the?…step six, seven. I pressed “save” and stopped writing, dejected. Why does something that seemed so easy sound so complicated when I type it all up? I hadn’t even made the pizza dough from scratch. A ten-step dinner party isn’t exactly the easiest sell to busy parents. Especially when all you have to show for it is pizza.
Part of the reason I decided on pizza was because three out of the four of my guests were vegetarian and I had just unpacked a pile of fall produce from the farmer’s market when Samidh’s text (“We’ll be there at 6:00”) came through. Also, Samidh’s two kids are considerably younger than my babies, which is to say one of them was reading The Wizard of Oz (Phoebe was only too happy to introduce her Marvel version to him) and the other invited nothing but awwww from her hosts when she stood up in a dining room chair, put her hands on her hips, and just hung out there for a while. In other words, when there’s a younger set involved, pizza always seems like a safe choice, something that everyone could eat together. No separate table, no separate menu, no separate serving.
And not that anyone would complain about a bunch of tomato and cheese pizzas, but I kind of felt like bringing it, and if you have the right resources, pizza is an excellent vehicle for doing just that. Resource number one, of course, was DALS fave Pizza Camp by Joe Beddia. I knew I wasn’t going to have time to make Beddia’s 24-hour deliciously fermenty dough, but I was looking for a pie that involved the spring cream I first made (and published here) last April and haven’t stopped thinking about since. It didn’t take long to land on one with kale and pickled onions — I had beautiful kale from the market — and I decided to supplement with a potato-cheddar-thyme pizza (inspired by New York’s Sullivan Street Bakery classic) and, because I’m not crazy, a classic margherita.
What really appealed to me about this menu was that I could prep the elements and assemble the pizzas ahead of time. All I needed to do when the guests arrived was shove the pies in the oven and set a timer. And it’s true, that part was easy and awesome. What I hadn’t realized until I started typing up the instructions was that some of the “elements” were pretty involved. I was cooking a little at a time all day long, I had done most of the shopping already, and it was one of those early fall Saturdays when being in the kitchen felt very right, so it didn’t feel like a lot.
But no matter which way I look at it, the Return on Investment was still pretty high, because dammmnnn that was a good dinner. So here’s your Family Pizza Party, in Ten Easy Steps.
2. Par-boil Potatoes
Slice 10-12 fresh fingerling potatoes (unpeeled is fine). Add to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until potatoes are slightly tender, but not cooked all the way through. Drain and pat dry if using right away.
3. Pickle Onions
In a small saucepan, bring 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 cups water to a simmer. Add ½ thinly sliced small red onion (about a cup) and boil three minutes. Drain. Do not rinse.
4. Make Marinara
In a small bowl, stir together one 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and one clove garlic, pressed. Cover and chill for as much time as you have. (Preferably about two hours, but I’ve used crushed tomatoes straight out of the can for sauce — no garlic or oil — and it’s fine. The key is UNCOOKED crushed tomatoes for sauce.)
5. Assemble Remaining Ingredients
-Handful (about as much as what’s shown in pic) of fresh Lacinato Kale, torn and tossed lightly in olive oil
-Shredded or shaved (see photo) Good Quality Sharp Cheddar, about 1 cup
-Fresh thyme leaves, from three or four sprigs
6. Prepare Three Pizza Doughs
Place three store-bought pizza doughs in the center of three lightly-oiled square cookie sheets. Using your fingers, stretch out each one to the sides of the pan. (Hopefully your dough will have been sitting out for at least a half hour so it will be warm and pliable.) The goal is to get the crusts as thin as possible.
7. Prep Pizza 1: Marinara
Brush dough with olive oil that’s been spiked with a little garlic powder. Using a ladle or a large spoon, distribute a few dollops of tomato sauce on dough, leaving a one-inch rim bare. Add torn fresh mozzarella pieces and a few handfuls of shredded part-skim mozzarella.
8. Prep Pizza 2: Kale and Pickled Onions (this is a version of another pie in Pizza Camp)
Spread spring cream on dough. Add about a dozen pieces of torn fresh mozzarella, torn kale, and pickled onions, as shown.
9. Prep Pizza 3: Potato and Cheddar with Thyme
Brush dough with olive oil that’s been spiked with a little garlic powder. Top dough with potato slices. Sprinkle cheddar all over dough, as shown. Sprinkle with thyme leaves. (I’ve added caramelized onions to this pizza before, but not this time.) When it comes out of the oven, sprinkle with sea salt and a few turns of freshly ground pepper.
10. Bake Pizzas
Bake each pizza in a 475° oven for 10 to 15 minutes (start checking after 10) until cheese is bubbling and crust is golden and crispy. Remove from oven, let cool slightly. Unless you have a gigantic oven or two ovens, you will probably have to do this in shifts. None of them have to be piping hot when you serve. In fact, they are easier to slice when they’ve cooled a bit. Cut pizzas in rectangular pieces and serve on platters and cutting boards in the center of the table with a giant green salad (that’s step 11 but I couldn’t bear to go beyond 10) and shredded Parm for optional garnishing.
PS: It would be very easy to add pepperoni or sausage crumbles to the margherita pizza if you were planning to entertain meat-eaters. I’m not sure why I do this, but whenever we are cooking for a vegetarian, we usually make sure everything is vegetarian and not just one corner of the meal. Do you guys do this too?
PPS: We started with chips and homemade guacamole.